A day in the life of Pet Admissions

“I could never do what you do.”

Imagine working a job where someone says those words to you just about every day. Sure, the Dumb Friends League Pet Admissions team has a difficult job—on average our shelters take in 58 animals per day—but they will tell you that it is also highly rewarding. Their interactions with pets are the first experience animals have with our shelter, so they have a huge impact on the lives of the pets that come through our doors. Here is a small glimpse into a day in the life of Pet Admissions.

Rolling out the welcome mat

Your first thought may be, “what is Pet Admissions?” This is the department that welcomes every animal to our shelter, making each feel as comfortable and safe as possible when walking through our doors. This includes lost and stray pets, animals relinquished by owners who can no longer care for them and pets who have reached the end of their lives; we turn no animals away. This is also where people are reunited with lost pets. As you can imagine, each day brings a wide range of emotions and situations—with none identical to the next.

Nothing average about the average day

If you’re one who thinks variety is the spice of life and isn’t big on routine, then pet admissions may be the right place for you!

The day starts with checking the night kennels and intaking any animals in them. (What does intaking involve? Stay tuned.) Today, the night kennels are empty, but there are days when each kennel has a pair of eyes peering out of it, waiting for someone to greet them.

Let’s talk quickly about night kennels. These kennels exist for people to utilize should they find a lost dog at 10 p.m. and need a safe place to take him after-hours, for example. The Dumb Friends League is an open-admissions shelter which means we open our doors to any animal in need. Sometimes the night kennels bring unusual guests. Josh, a Pet Admissions associate who is kind enough to show me the ropes, has seen everything from cats and dogs to scorpions (yikes!) and an arctic fox (woah!) in the night kennels. There is nothing average about that! (Fun fact: the League does not adopt out scorpions or foxes, so when we receive animals like them, we work with placement partners who specialize in caring for and finding homes for them.)

After taking care of any pets in the night kennels, the area, which is also used during intake, is cleaned, stocked and prepared for the day. Josh checks appointments to get an idea of what to expect for the day. Appointments are booked in 30-minute increments, but typically take less time. On a weekday, the team routinely has about five appointments per day, but Saturdays and Sundays are usually booked. Walk-ins are always welcome but will likely wait a little longer than those with appointments. Today there are five appointments ranging from relinquishment to end-of-life services.

Do you speak my language?

The first thing Josh explains is that the goal during an intake appointment is to make sure he and the patron are speaking the same language “If someone tells me their pet is aggressive, I ask additional questions to find out if the animal is aggressive or if something else is going on.” In other words, what a member of public may describe as an aggressive animal, may instead be a fearful animal that is showing aggressive behaviors due to that fear. The questions, along with the follow-up questions, the team asks are designed to get the most accurate information possible about the pet. “I need people to be as honest about their pet because a pet’s history in the home is more important than its behavior in the shelter.”

The importance of keeping calm

As you can imagine, Pet Admissions is a stressful place for the pets, patrons and sometimes staff. Animals arriving at an unknown place—cats in carriers (we all know how much they love that) and dogs encountering new sights and smells (depending on the dog, this can be good or bad!), patrons dealing with a wide range of emotions and staff working with unknown animals and emotional patrons. So, Josh explains that another goal is to keep stress levels as low as possible … for everyone.

As you probably know, animals can sense when humans are stressed, so the staff does their best to remain calm and avoid frustration, even when that dog doesn’t want to get on the scale or that cat is yowling inside the kennel.

What happens here, doesn’t stay here

Why does keeping calm matter? “An animal’s experience during intake helps determine its journey through the shelter,” Josh explains. “How a pet behaves during vaccinations and other handling, may determine if the animal requires behavior training, for example, which could mean a longer stay in the shelter.”

During intake, Josh takes notes that include everything the patron tells him about the pet, as well as how the pet reacted to being handled, weighed, vaccinated and having a collar put on. Did the dog snap or did she just lean on Josh’s leg soliciting pets? Did the cat hiss or did he relax in Josh’s arms?

Since we’re talking about intake, let’s dive a little deeper into what is involved with some friends who arrived the day we spent with Josh.

Cricket and Samson

A patron walks in with a big, fluffy cat and tells us he was left behind in an apartment after the tenant was evicted. So, while Josh gathers as much information as possible, we don’t know a whole lot about this cat, later named Cricket.

Intake for cats and dogs is a little different. Since cats tend to take a little longer to get adopted than dogs, the Pet Admissions team evaluates cats at the time of intake, time permitting, helping reduce the amount of time cats spend in the shelter. This also helps lower the cat’s overall stress levels since everything is done at one time, instead of putting the cat through more handling after it has settled down.

We take Cricket into room and remove him from the kennel. We immediately notice that he’s a friendly guy, purring and leaning into pets and chin scratches. Josh checks to see if Cricket is neutered (he’s not), weighs him, looks at his teeth, administers vaccinations, puts a collar and tag on him and takes his picture for our records. We take Cricket back to his holding kennel that is already stocked with a litterbox, food and water, and let him relax and settle in. Since Cricket is a stray, he will need to wait five days before he can be neutered and placed up for adoption. (Fun Fact: Strays are placed on a five-day stray hold to give owners a chance to reunite with lost pets. After five days is up, we start getting the pet ready for adoption.)

Samson, a five-year-old dachshund Chihuahua mix comes into the lobby with his owner who reports that he has been growling and snapping at the toddler in the home. Josh asks questions to gather as much information as possible about Samson. His owner tells us that other than his recent issues with the small child, he’s a great dog and hopes he finds a good home.

Josh weighs Samson, evaluates his overall size for kennel placement, vaccinates him, puts a collar and tag on him and takes his photo. We walk him back to a kennel, later he will be evaluated further for any behavior or medical needs.

As we mentioned before, the interactions pets have with members of the Pet Admissions team during intake help shape their journeys through the shelter. Since Cricket was calm and easy to handle, he only had to wait out the stray hold and have his neuter surgery before becoming available for adoption—and we’re happy to report he was adopted to a new, loving home about two weeks after he arrived. Due to Samson’s history of snapping at the small child, he needed a behavior evaluation and further behavior training. We also found some medical concerns that needed to be addressed prior to adoption. After just over two weeks at the shelter, Samson was also adopted to a new, loving home.

The more you know

Every day, the Pet Admissions staff spends time sharing information and counseling patrons as they make difficult decisions, like relinquishing a pet or having a pet euthanized. They also help people learn what options are available to them. If a patron visits with an ill or injured animal that they are relinquishing because they cannot afford treatment, for example, the team will inform them about low cost care options available, so people and pets can stay together. Here are two more examples of how Pet Admissions team members educate the public from my day with Josh:

  1. A patron relinquished one cat and informed us she had three others in the home. The cat she brought in, Catalina, had been urinating outside of her litterbox—a common reason for pet surrender and a common concern for cat owners. Because Catalina’s owner still had three other felines at home, Josh took the opportunity to educate her about litterbox needs for cats, hoping the remaining cats would benefit from this knowledge. (Fun fact: To avoid house soiling issues, we recommend one litterbox per cat plus one. So, if you have four cats, you should have five litterboxes.)
  2. A few weeks prior, a patron came in with a cat she had trapped on her property. This cat was feral and would likely not be an adoptions candidate. The Pet Admissions team informed her that we could neuter the cat and she could release the cat back onto her property, so at the very least, he wouldn’t be contributing to pet overpopulation. Thanks to this education, she proceeded to work on trapping every cat and kitten on her property, bringing them in to be spayed or neutered and releasing them. She was so grateful for the information and help the team provide, that she found our supply wish list on our website and brought a car full of donations for the League and treats for the team. (Fun Fact: Releasing spayed or neutered feral cats back to the area they were found is good for your property. Not only will they be unable to reproduce, they will keep other cats from moving in on their territory, while offering pest control services free of charge.)

All for the animals

While you still may be thinking, “I could never do what they do,” hopefully after reading this, you understand what they do a bit more and you’re as grateful as we are that the Pet Admissions team is there, performing a vital role in the lives of animals who come through our doors each day. As Josh told us, “I’m happy to be here for the animals.”